A return trip to the semistate gives the Southwestern High School girls basketball team one advantage Saturday.
The Shelby County school returns two starters and two key bench players from last season's squad, which lost to Northeast Dubois 54-51 in a Class A semistate.
"Even if they weren't all on the floor, they've all been there and know the routine," said Southwestern coach Bill Taylor, as his team prepares to play No. 4 Vincennes Rivet (21-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Richmond Semistate. "We know the pressure of playing the extra weeks and the fun of it, too. It definitely gives you the advantage of having the experience before."
The starters for Southwestern (21-4) are all juniors. The returning starters are Annie Thomas and Oda Shackelford. Brooke Kistler and Taylor Eversole moved from top bench players to starters. The other starter is Haley Temple, who missed last season with a broken leg.
"Haley is just an athlete," Taylor said. "She really gets after it defensively. She gets in there and gets rebounds. She's going to give us a spark of athleticism. Her offense is down from sitting out that year but we have other people that can score."
Thomas, a point guard, paces the team with a 22.0-point scoring average. She also leads the team in steals and assists.
"She gets a considerable amount of rebounds for a guard, too," Taylor said.
Shackelford, a 6-1 center, averages 14.8 points on 63 percent shooting and seven rebounds.
"She's a true power player," Taylor said. "She can play facing the basket. There was one game she hit three 3-pointers for us. Most of the time we don't need her shooting out there because we have other players who can put those kinds of shots up for us."
Hamilton Heights coach Tod Windlan definitely feels his Huskies are battle-tested after the 3A Bellmont Regional.
The No. 2 Huskies outlasted No. 5 Norwell 60-58 and defending 3A champion Fort Wayne Concordia 65-62 in the title game.
"We were able to pull that (title) game out with clutch free throw shooting at the end," Windlan said. "Dakota Weatherford and Haley Cook did the bulk of scoring in the championship game. Miranda Pennington came off the bench to score nine points and have six rebounds so we felt that was really big for us."
Weatherford, a senior guard who has committed to Evansville, averages 19.7 points for the Huskies (22-2), who will play No. 4 Benton Central (22-3) in a 3A semistate at approximately 3 p.m. at Crown Point. Cook, a junior guard, averages 16.7 points.
"They're both gifted with good hand and foot speed," Windlan said. "Both shoot the ball extremely well so they beat you off the dribble or (from) the 3-point line. Any time you have that in your arsenal, you're going to be hard to defend. We have two or three other kids like that other than them that can create shots on their own."
Windlan said Benton Central has two great guards in Caitlyn Tolen and Cassidy Deno.
"The matchup is a little bit odd in that they are going to want to play a halfcourt game and we want to play more of a high possession, full-court game," Windlan said. "We are going to have to rebound well to do that and we hope we can get the game turned into one where we can use our quickness to our advantage."